Farm to School

In March 2010, The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, along with several other founding partners, began a two-year collaboration with Live Well Omaha: Douglas County Putting Prevention to Work to accomplish a singular vision: to make Douglas County a healthier place to live, work, play and raise children. Our expertise allowed us to assist the larger effort by leading a Farm to School initiative in Omaha.

The main goal of our initiative was to foster and support procurement of local foods among schools in Douglas County. This was achieved by working with food service directors, producers and distributors throughout the county to determine benefits and barriers then working to overcome challenges to get local foods into schools.

The Center led the Farm to School portion of the Live Well Omaha: Communities Putting Prevention to Work two-year grant project, which is supported by Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funds awarded to the Center by the Douglas County Health Department.

What is Farm to School?

Farm to School connects schools with local farms with the ultimate goal of providing healthier meals in K-12 schools and supporting local and regional farmers and ranchers in the process. More information about Farm to School and initiatives being conducted across the U.S. can be found on the national Farm to School website. Farm to School draws from a range of activities designed to connect children to local agriculture, including:

  • Classroom visits by farmers to discuss where foods come from and growing practices
  • Tours of area farms
  • Facilitating the use of local foods in school cafeterias and at school events
  • Sharing information about seasonal foods
  • Working to incorporate farm food into curriculum (such as geography lessons that show where different foods come from and math lessons that calculate food miles or a crop’s days to maturity
  • Supplying useful information through “Harvest of the Month,” which focuses on teaching students about seasonality, nutrient content, growth cycle and freshness through lessons, cafeteria menu features and signage

What is happening in Douglas County?

A main goal of the Center’s Farm to School program was to assist schools and producers in the creation of standard operating procedures for the sale and purchase of locally grown foods while ultimately identifying needs for implementation of Farm to School and streamlining procedures for partners in Douglas County. With a regional universally accepted system, the Farm to School programs initiated today will lay a foundation that simplifies efforts for producers, distributors and school system staff in the future.

Getting fresh fruits, vegetables and other local foods into a school system is not always easy. Interested schools and producers are sometimes limited by insurance requirements, the absence of an operational kitchen, delivery system issues, insufficient staff time or knowledge, food and training costs or restrictive procurement systems, as well as other barriers. To help overcome these challenges, the Center’s Farm to School program coordinator brought together and facilitated dialogue between key stakeholders such as school food service personnel, distributors and producers.

A first priority of the program was the implementation of a needs assessment whereby school food service directors, producers and distributors were surveyed to identify interest levels, previous local food procurement or farm-to-school sales and perceived barriers and benefits. In addition, in December 2010, the Center led a workshop bringing together food service directors, producers, distributors and other interested community members to discuss best strategies for getting Farm to School underway in Douglas County. This workshop also provided a unique opportunity to convene stakeholders for networking and to help begin the process of fostering relationships to help promote Farm to School in Douglas County.

Omaha Public Schools

Omaha Public Schools (OPS) is the largest school district in the state of Nebraska and serves approximately 49,000 children. The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition and OPS signed pledges with School Food FOCUS, a national collaborative that assists with the procurement of healthful, regionally sourced and sustainable food in large school districts. This commitment will further the ability of OPS to develop mutually beneficial relationships with local producers and bring more fresh, local foods to students in its 61 elementary, 11 middle and seven high schools. School Food FOCUS will provide assistance through its learning lab for school food service professionals, policy program recommendations, collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, supportive legislative action and other efforts. Currently, OPS works with a local distributor to maximize the amount of local foods in schools.

Westside Community Schools

Westside Community Schools, which serves more than 6,000 students in Omaha, began actively seeking participation of local vendors in the 2010-2011 school year to provide local foods a few times each month during the fall of 2010. The district continues to expand its Farm to School efforts.


Read the results of a national Farm to Preschool survey here.

How is Farm to School doing in Douglas County? Read this story that ran in the Omaha World-Herald on March 12, 2012.

Use this Farm to School Toolkit Resource Guide to link to helpful forms, resources and step-by-step guides from Farm to School organizations across the nation. Please send additional tools and links to Mary Chapman at or call (402) 559-5506.

If you are interesed in getting Farm to School efforts happening in your school, use this toolkit to help you get started!

Read this great story about Omaha Public Schools’ success with Farm to School on the School Food FOCUS (Food Options for Children in Urban Schools) blog.

Back to School Food 2011: Learn about Omaha school food service directors’ plans to incorporate more local foods into meals for the 2011-2012 school year.

View Farm to School Coordinator Chelsey Erpelding’s “Farm to School Policies at the District Level,” presented at the 2011 Society of Nutrition Education Conference.

Read the USDA Farm to School Team 2010 Summary Report, an analysis of national Farm to School efforts, challenges and opportunities.

Read the Spring 2011 Douglas County Farm to School Needs Assessment Report and the Spring 2012 Results and Implications Report.

Review the “Promoting a Healthier Next Generation” presentation Dr. Amy Yaroch shared at Westside Community Schools’ Food (R)evolution parents event on May 3, 2011. Included are tips for parents about encouraging and modeling healthy eating habits.

Local Food and Schools in the Omaha World-Herald
“Schools grab locally grown produce,” September 27, 2010 Read article
“Law will kick junk food out of schools,” December 3, 2010 Read article

Farm to School in the Norfolk Daily News: “Effort to get fresh food to students” on April 4, 2011.

Farm to School in Metro Neighborhood News: “School Lunch: Schools Incorporate the Farm 2 Fork Movement” on April 26, 2011.

Read notes from the Farm to School Training Meeting held on December 9, 2010

For additional information on Douglas County’s Farm to School Program, please contact Michelle Woodruff at